June 26, 2016

Intermittent clouds

State’s audit of educational fund near completion

The state’s special audit of a carryover fund held by the Medina County Schools Educational Service Center is near completion.

Brittany Halpin, a spokeswoman for the auditor’s office, said she did not yet have an exact date for when the audit would be released.

The Medina County Schools Educational Service Center’s governing board voted effective Monday to accept the resignation of its treasurer, Michelle McNeely, shown here in March. (GAZETTE FILE PHOTO)

“We are in the final stages of that audit, but the work is still ongoing,” she said.

The audit examines Superintendent Randy Stepp’s spending from the fund, which held money left over after the district paid for ESC services, such as school nurses, tutors for special needs students and bus driver training.

The governing board requested the audit and placed Stepp on paid leave following a public outcry over Stepp’s new contract, which provided him with an $83,000 “retention” bonus, and subsequent publicity about earlier contracts that obligated the district to pay for Stepp’s old college loans and for a master’s of business administration.

The educational costs, which totaled more than a quarter-million dollars, were paid with checks from the ESC carryover fund at Stepp’s direction.

School board members later said they did not know the total cost — a claim Stepp disputes in a federal lawsuit he filed May 17.

The lawsuit also challenges school board members’ statements that they did not know about all the payments he was making using the district’s carryover fund at the ESC.

The Gazette reported in April that Stepp was reimbursed $4,782.89 from the ESC fund for a 2008 trip to Orlando, Fla., for a National School Boards Association conference.

Stepp was accompanied by his wife and three daughters and has said he billed the district only for his expenses. But records show he included receipts for two nights at a luxury hotel after the four-day conference ended.

The board placed Stepp on paid leave in April pending the outcome of the audit. In the meantime, the board hired interim Superintendent Dave Knight.

Among the issues the school board is asking the state auditor to consider are “authorization for approval to pay per district’s policies or employment contract,” the “adequacy of supporting documentation,” “proper public purpose,” “proper fund/account coding in the District’s accounting records” and “exclusion from any amounts previously reimbursed or paid by the ESC.”

In addition to the carryover fund, the board also asked the state to audit Stepp’s American Express card — one of two credit cards he was issued in 2006, the year he was hired, to pay for district expenses.

But the school board is asking the auditors to examine only one month’s bill — December 2007, covering charges made between Nov. 10 and Dec. 10.

Medina School board President Karla Robinson said Monday that the board has not yet received the audit results.

“We are hoping to hear from them soon,” she said. “But we have not had a report from them yet.”

Interim Superintendent Dave Knight confirmed this as well.

“It’s moving along,” he said. “I’m hoping that we have some news soon that we can share with the community. … It’s too soon to give firm dates.”

John Leatherman, president of the Medina Teachers Association, said he met with union leaders last week, and they were eager to learn the results.

“There was a definite frustration in the room,” he said. “They were really pressing me to find out what I knew and when this audit would come out.”

Both the Medina school board and the ESC governing board scheduled closed executive session meetings this week for the purpose of “considering the investigation of charges or complaints against a public employee, official, licensee or student,” according to the agenda of the two meetings.

The ESC meeting was held Monday. While none of the board members would discuss details of the executive session, the board did take action — They voted to accept the resignation of Michelle McNeely, the ESC treasurer, effective Monday.

Kent Patterson, president of the ESC governing board, declined to say whether any “charges or complaints” involved McNeely.

“I really don’t it would be appropriate to even comment one way or the other at this point,” he said. “It involved executive session. We did take our action afterwards which was in public.”

Patterson the board would meet again this week to appoint an interim treasurer.

McNeely submitted a letter of resignation to the Medina County Schools’ governing board Monday, and board members voted to accept it after the hourlong executive session.

“Although this decision was difficult to make, it is necessary for personal and family reasons,” she wrote. “It has been my pleasure to serve the Board these last eight years as Treasurer and the prior nine years in other capacities.”

McNeely was not present at the meeting, and could not be reached for comment.

William Koran, superintendent of the Educational Service Center, said McNeely began as a secretary, earned her treasurer’s license and did her apprenticeship at the center.

“She has been a highly valued employee for those 17 years,” he said.

Koran said McNeely received her associate’s degree from Wayne College and a bachelor’s degree from Malone College.

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.